For those schooled in big business, taking risks is harder
That’s a bold statement I realise. I recently shared a post on Linkedin asking my community what they felt were the key barriers for young entrepreneurs and out of this conversation emerged a counter theme that inspired this piece. Never before has there been a better time to be an entrepreneur and with bleak prospects for millennials, starting up on their own is a real, viable option.
The barriers to starting a business have never been lower – limited companies can be set up in days, web or mobile based tools like Wix (for building a website), Google Docs & Slack (for sharing documents and collaboration) Stripe (to easily add payments) and AI personal assistants like x.AI alongside an abundance of co-working spaces (like We Work) have changed the game.
Launching a new business is however, not just about having the toolkit or every street would be aplenty with budding YouTubers. Starting up demands individuals with a certain type of attitude and attributes; bravery, confidence and a clear purpose to make a real difference, being the most prevalent. These are of course not attributes that are defined by age, yet I’m going to argue that youth provides an unfair advantage. You’re probably thinking that I mean because they have fewer commitments (mortgage, kids etc), youthful ignorance or the luxury of time to fail and that’s true, but it’s much more than that.
If you’ve been schooled in big business and become familiar with how it works and how to play the game, it is much harder to step out and take a risk. Young millennials are comfortable with constant change, moving job, home or even country with regular frequency. Material things, relationships and professional endeavours are much more fluid than for their parents. Digital platforms have played a big role here creating an on-demand generation where a date or hook-up for tonight is as easy to secure as a new series to binge on Netflix. This generation enjoy the advantage of being digital natives and leveraging digital and software for success is therefore second nature. That much is obvious.
Their career and life prospects are however widely accepted as challenging with unemployment and under employment rife. The crippling costs of higher education no longer guarantee a well-paid, professional career. These conditions have created a generation that holds purpose and making an impact in higher regard than arguably any generation before. Whether it is marketplaces that are opaque or the antiquated education and recruitment industry, young people are passionate about social change and a fairer, more connected, transparent world. They see broken models and poor leaders all around them and given the path their parents took is no longer paved with silver or gold, they are more open and willing to “have a go” themselves.
Their advantage is also the baggage they don’t carry – they have not been defined and worn down by corporate life. The linear models of yesterday are losing out to more disruptive, fast moving and dynamic models. These new environments need to be experienced, as the education system has not kept up to be able to teach this art. A great example of this dilemma is the fact that KPMG last week launched their own digital apprentice degree, proclaiming that the system is not moving fast enough to create the future talent they require.
The rules are being rewritten every day and as such the best platform for learning is not an institution, but on the job
I have recently worked with some super bright, young entrepreneurs who have gained transformational experience in one year that it took our generation a decade to on-board. The baby boomer generation, in particular on this side of the Atlantic, was raised to believe that you needed a job for life and failure was stigmatised. Wherever they are in the world, young people have seen serial entrepreneurs in the Valley take two or three shots before they succeed, teaching them to adopt a more iterative approach and one where failure is recognised as a learning endeavour. They do not start up their first business expecting it to be a unicorn but rather as the first stepping stone towards future success.
Social networks play a multi faceted and crucial role in how they do business – to communicate their vision, build a community, access audience insight, research and connect to experienced leaders or investors that can support their journey plus to drive cost effective customer acquisition. Social platforms and the rise of B2B and leadership content available through blogs and podcasts enables young people with initiative to access wisdom and leaders. This helps them build an industry or worldview more easily than at any time in the past. Equally, unlike those who have had to hustle to make it up the corporate ladder, they are naturally more collaborative and are comfortable with working remotely and flexibly, rather than conforming to a 9-5 working week. They are a fearless force to be reckoned with and leverage fully the value of digital democratisation.
This narrative is not ignorant to the many barriers facing a young entrepreneur succeeding, ranging from raising funds to a lack of mentors, business acumen and support network but this isn’t that article. Rather, to celebrate the attributes that young people enjoy and to encourage them to actively consider and pursue entrepreneurship. The ecosystem demands urgent evolution to better enable this. As I touched on earlier, “on demand” has transformed everything yet it has failed to date to disrupt how young people access professional opportunities or the support they need as an entrepreneur. Young people “having a go” deserve more support and encouragement but also more seamless on-demand access to wisdom, learning and services. They have been told so many times that they will not succeed, that they are lazy, that they should get a proper job, this has built up a resilience and relentless determination to prove others wrong.
This acts as a powerful motivator and one that savvy investors and enlightened corporate leaders are beginning to spot. I predict that over the next few years we will see an improved support network emerge to accelerate this potent combination of motivation and passion in to the next wave of unicorns. Businesses with social good at their core are already seeing healthy investment from the VC and PE community. The next generation of tech successes will come from a younger generation that feel that the Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook’s of this world have built market capital based on consumer exploitation rather than consumer enablement.
The meaningful brands of the future will be built by twenty-somethings who whilst unknown today will inherit the celebrity status of the Zuckerberg’s Spiegel’s and Dorsey’s. Crucially, this new generation of leaders will be more authentic and #workoutloud. They are always on in social and will use thjese platforms to connect to their customer base and wider communities to test new concepts and absorb constant feedback to inform how and where they pivot.
So, if you’ve perhaps lost your late-2017 enthusiasm that blockchain will make you rich and have a few quid to invest, you could do much worse than back some young rising stars. More than that, those of us that have enjoyed steady jobs in big business now have an urgent responsibility to lean-in and change the odds for this generation. By combining the attributes and advantages detailed here with wisdom and experience, together we can build a better world.
Paul is involved in Big Youth Group, an organisation set up specifically to help young people and entrepreneurs.